Parents of teenagers know that their kids are often subject to wild fluctuations of self esteem. At times, they seem invulnerable: they’re able to dive off high cliffs, take leaps on their skateboards and strut with utter confidence. At other times, the only thing taking a dive is their self esteem. They are depressed and feel too fat, too thin, too ugly, or too embarrassed to face the world.
While such swings are normal, the extremes are also quite rare. Overweight teens, however, are almost always self-conscious about their appearance, their ability to participate in athletic events and their popularity. And sadly, more and more young children are facing the prospect of life on the sidelines.
Teenage obesity isn’t the only culprit, though. Obese adults also suffer from self esteem issues.
A Crowded, Intolerant World
Obese people feel unwelcome in public. We know that our bodies will overflow the standard size seats on airplanes, in movie theaters, in public auditoriums, and at the opera. The narrow seats of school bleachers, church pews and park benches are uncomfortable and crowded places.
Children, teens and adults who are overweight often feel isolated and lonely. Some of us are outgoing, compensating for what we perceive to be a lack of physical appeal. We are often willing to give more time and attention to others than we get back for themselves.
Some obese young people report that they enjoy corresponding with internet pen pals and joining chat rooms where they participate as “normal” people. The anonymity of the Internet protects them from their peers’ judgments. Unfortunately, the time spent online takes them away from emotionally nourishing, real-world relationships.
Most employers tend to be quite secretive about the criteria they use for selecting the employees that they hire, fearing lawsuits from the candidates they reject. However, under the cover of anonymity, many admit that employment discrimination against the obese does occur.Why are obese people subject to employment discrimination? People often assume that obese people are lazy, sluggish and even grumpy. An overweight secretary isn’t likely to leap out of her seat to offer coffee to visitors. Obese people can’t walk very far or very fast; many companies want the public to perceive them as young, dynamic and energetic.
As mental health professionals begin to recognize the support needs of young people with weight problems, they are able to offer counseling and support that helps kids and teens with self esteem and isolation problems.
School clubs, support groups, community activities and summer camps designed to help young people with extreme weight problems can help. The best support groups are those that avoid focusing solely on dieting and nutrition, and design activities that balance goal setting, confidence building, diet, exercise and relationships.
Adults struggling with their weight have a range of different support options. Many medical centers hold weekly evening sessions chaired by a physician who can answer questions about surgical options, diet, exercise and other medical issues. A number of women’s only, men’s only and 12-step programs are also available to overweight adults. One of the fastest growing types of support group is the online forum. Message boards are anonymous and because the group members come from all over, you can always connect with someone who knows exactly your situation.